In August of 2005, then eight-year-old Jonathan Murray was on the playground of his Baton Rouge, Louisiana, elementary school when he heard the distinctive hum of a fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for the first time.
He watched in amazement as the aircraft flew overhead and knew they were tasked with a vital mission: rescue and assist the people of New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina.
At that moment, Murray knew he wanted to become a pilot.
Now, as a U.S. Army first lieutenant in the Virginia National Guard deployed to Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, Murray is the medical evacuations, or MEDEVAC, operations officer for Kosovo Force Regional Command- East and is living his dream of flying UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
“They were helping people,” Murray said of his childhood experience, “I always wanted to help people…and I’m very fortunate to be able to do that now.”
Murray, assigned to Detachment 2, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment, recently completed the demanding flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, before deploying to Kosovo.
“The Army flight training program is pretty intense,” said Murray. “It’s anywhere between 18 to 24 months of training, which includes common core, or basic aircraft knowledge.”
In addition to basic aircraft knowledge, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence attendees learn tactical knowledge and the specific capabilities of the aircraft they will be flying.
Murray said the most challenging aspect of flight school for him was finding a work-life balance.
“You spend a lot of time studying, a lot of time flying, and at the end of the day, you still have a family that you need to be there for,” he said. “Learning that balance and also being able to succeed was the most difficult thing.”
Everything came full circle when Murray found out that he was selected to be a MEDEVAC pilot.
“It was definitely my preference, but I didn’t know if I was going to be a MEDEVAC pilot…I just wanted to fly really bad,” he said. “But, when I found out that MEDEVAC was an opportunity, it was something that I went for.”
Now in Kosovo as the MEDEVAC operations officer, Murray is responsible for not only flying, but coordinating missions and training operations with NATO partners.
“We provide training on how to load and unload patients onto a medical aircraft and how to be safe while doing so,” said Murray. “We have a lot of training missions that we go out and train with our NATO partners.”
In order to maintain their flight stats, pilots must fly a specific number of flight hours, something Murray said is easy to do while deployed to Kosovo in large part because of the training they routinely conduct. He added the best way to continue developing as an aviator is to keep flying.
“Even if you study a system and know it inside and out, those things perish,” he said. “You have to keep studying (and) maintaining proficiency, as well as paying attention to new guidance and new lessons learned that come out in order to stay the best at your craft.”
Murray shared that he’s thankful to be deployed with the crew that he’s working with in Kosovo.
“I’m very fortunate to be deployed with this group of individuals,” he said. “They’re very professional and have taken time out of their days to mentor and guide me, and I couldn’t ask to be deployed with a better group of people.”
While the process to become a pilot is extensive and demanding, Murray said those thinking about pursuing a career as an aviator should “go for it.”